In 13 SINS (and its source material), the challenges are much more Faustian than John McClane being coerced into thwarting a bomb threat. By contrast, Elliot (Mark Webber), a newly unemployed salesman, is under no obligation to become a contestant on the sinister gameshow pitched to him through phone calls from a lively mystery man (an unseen but brilliant George Coe). Most of the film’s first twenty minutes are devoted to Elliot’s rapidly growing list of financial woes: a wedding; a baby on the way; a mentally handicapped brother; a recently evicted father; yet playing the game is emphatically how he chooses to improve his situation. As a result, the subsequent events are cast as an allegory for addiction to power, with the meek Elliot learning to take pleasure in abandoning his inhibitions. The transformation isn’t subtle, and Webber's tendency to overact makes it seem overly fast, but there’s a wicked delight in seeing him complete the escalating challenges regardless. Sticking to the beats of a familiar idea also allows moments where 13 SINS subverts expectations to shine; without spoiling too much, the film manages to pull off several twists, and they’re made more effective by its prior adherence to a recognisable formula.
However, Stamm also mostly replaces 13 Beloved’s darkly comedic tone with that of a thriller, a decision which riddles his film with missed opportunities, since above all, Elliot isn’t a smart character. As mentioned above, the mystery man doesn’t force him to begin playing, and so the stakes of his doing so are significantly lowered. Continuing the film as a black comedy from this point would add nuance to the story and increase its allegorical power, as well as giving Webber more to do than simply react as the game spirals out of his control. Indeed, it’s hardly surprising to discover that Elliot has merely been granted the illusion of power, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with having a lead that fails to consider every consequence, but the film would have benefited from at least a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement that he brought most of the plot upon himself. Meanwhile, two of the challenges are absurd and specific enough to be naturally amusing, which the direction of their respective scenes smartly takes advantage of, yet this unfortunately clashes with the rest of the film. Finally, Ron Perlman plays a small role as a detective following the connections between Elliot’s crimes and the larger conspiracy behind the mystery man, and giving him greater freedom to exercise his dry wit likely would have helped make this subplot more memorable, since it doesn’t quite deliver a satisfying conclusion.
Although the changes 13 SINS makes to its formula are understandable given Stamm’s horror background, they ultimately work against it achieving a lasting impact. It’s an easy to watch and entertaining enough film, but it’s unfortunate that its strongest points are typically when it adheres most closely to familiar ideas.
13 SINS IS AVAILABLE THROUGH EAGLE ENTERTAINMENT ON 20/12/17.